Doc Attempts to Uncover Mountain Bike History
The origin of the mountain bike has long been shrouded in mystery and a subject of dispute. Director Billy Savage’s documentary Klunkersz/a> reveals the origins of mountain biking on Mt.Tamalpais in Marin County. That is not to say that it answers for all time the question of who began the trend that has taken over the world.
The group of guys — and one really cool girl, Wende Cragg, who also happened to be a camera freak — who are the subjects of this film may not have been the first to spend their adolescences screaming down mountains on heavy steel cruisers, nor the first to modify the bikes to fit their purpose. Savage’s film makes clear that this was going on in various little enclaves, including Crested Butte, Colorado and Cupertino, California. Indeed some of the most dramatic moments of the film come when these isolated groups, who did not know that others existed, encounter one another.
This fascinating little documentary does make the argument that the Marin County clique popularized the practice, and it tells the history of mountain bike technology and production. Savage was clearly influenced by Dogtown and Z-Boys, the classic flashback documentary that tells the history of skateboarding as it evolved among a group of Southern California surf rats who later went on to become skateboarding legends. As in Z-Boys, Savage relies on black-and-white action footage and stills interspersed with present day commentary from the same Marin County hippie kids, now grown up.
Finding the footage, dating back as far as 1968, was challenging enough. (One of my favorite shots shows a primitive mountain biker using branches to replace his inner tube.) But in addition Savage had to act like some kind of cross between Jane Goodall hanging out with the mountain gorillas and Jimmy Carter brokering Mideast peace in order to get the interviews. Tensions had developed among the original group once mountain bike building became profitable — some of the guys cashed in to the tune of millions, and some didn’t. You won’t find any of animosity reflected in the film though: Not only did they not want to talk about it, but Savage didn’t want to hear it.
What he wanted, and what he got once they warmed up to him, was great on-camera anecdotes and reminisces of their extreme joys, competitions, and camaraderie. The off-camera happy ending is that the original crew all gathered together again at the film’s Marin County premiere, just like old times. Several of them are now eco-warriors who build bikes to promote healthy bodies and a healthy planet. It’s about 15 minutes too long unless you can never get enough of anything that has to do with bikes—but do stay for the ending, it’ll warm your heart.
The last scheduled showing was this morning, Saturday, at 10:30 a.m., where Indy reporter Ethan Stewart led a Q&A. Ironically, it conflicted with the planned Ride for Rwanda bike ride being sponsored by Santa Barbara Middle School. So here’s to hope that they add another screening, as they often do in this festival.